TV Veteran Kevin Reilly on Rebranding TNT, 'The Alienist' Hopes and Samantha Bee's "Carte Blanche"

The Turner Entertainment exec — NATPE's 2018 Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award honoree – also shares his take on the Disney-Fox merger.
Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Turner
Kevin Reilly in 2016 flanked by Michelle Dockery (left), star of TNT's 'Good Behavior,' and Samantha Bee of TBS' weekly late-night entry 'Full Frontal.'

Kevin Reilly has run more networks than some cord-cutters can name. Now president of TBS and TNT (and chief creative officer for Turner Entertainment), the 55-year-old programmer previously oversaw FX, NBC and Fox. His résumé, with a series rap sheet including ER, Empire, 30 Rock, The Shield and Glee, makes him a natural recipient of NATPE's 2018 Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award — an honor he'll share with prolific producer Greg Berlanti (Arrow), Telemundo chairman Cesar Conde, Jane Fonda and Tom Selleck at the Miami Beach event Jan. 17.

On the eve of launching TNT's adaptation of The Alienist, Reilly talks about his three-year journey to refresh the cable portfolio, what he thinks of media mergers and his most surprising hit.

Do you see The Alienist launch as your Turner rebrand really coming to fruition?

We are on the precipice. It was one of the first things we bought, so it's been among the longer gestation periods in my career. We have a number of other things in the pipeline. I see 2018 as the year it all starts coming together.

It's billed as a limited series — but if it's successful, is it safe to assume you'd do more? That is the norm these days.

Restraint is not necessarily the number one quality in show business. For talent, for producers, for a network, when you get something that's really special, like Big Little Lies, you don't want to give that gig up. It is hard to get lightning to strike twice — but if The Alienist goes over well, we're probably going to put some brainpower behind trying to do at least another chapter of it.

Working at a company in the midst of its own merger, what's your take on the Disney-Fox deal?

I really did feel the AT&T-Time Warner merger was going to be the first shoe to drop. It's the most vibrant time to work in television, and consumption is up across the board, but the traditional linear network is getting stretched very thin. You're really seeing the contraction of networks that didn't have an asset base.

How do you feel about the potential changes at your old networks?

I certainly expect FX to continue to be a vibrant destination. FBC is completely unclear. It was always an odd challenge running a network that was essentially two hours in prime. I saw it in the strongest years of American Idol and those years of decline when Idol could no longer hold it all up. It's hard to run a network without different dayparts to hold you up.

Are there shows you hope you'll be most remembered for?

I didn't create any of these shows. I didn't star in them. They weren't my babies. I was lucky to add some value and let the producers do their thing. It's hard to sum up such a crazy range of years. I started with Saved by the Bell.

Did you ever anticipate Saved by the Bell having the legacy it did?

After the first couple of episodes, when it was [called] Good Morning, Miss Bliss, Hayley Mills was let go, and Brandon Tartikoff himself said, "Take the good-looking kid, the funny kid, the other cute kid and figure out what the show is." At the time, I thought I was toiling in obscurity. Everyone else at NBC was working on Cheers and The Cosby Show. But the show went on and on. It paid a lot of bills and became this weird cultural marker for kids and college stoners who watched it on Saturday mornings for a decade.

Are you trying to get more from Samantha Bee than just the weekly show [Full Frontal]?

You can anticipate more specials. And we're almost ready to roll out a lot more digital content — not one-off segments but a steady pulse of content between the weekly shows. Sam has carte blanche to do whatever she wants and has from day one.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.